Science in Christian Perspective
What Is Man?--A Biological Perspective and Christian Assessment
D. GARETH JONES
Department of Anatomy and Human Biology
University of Western Australia. Nedlands, Western Australia 6009
From: JASA 28 (December 1976): 165-173.
"We are nature's unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of US."1
"Man is a machine by birth but a self by experience. And the special character
of the self lies in its experience not of nature but of others. "2
"Man knows enough but is not yet wise enough to make Man."3
"When Aristotle marked off man from the rest of the animal world by what he called 'rationality', or when a modern anthropologist turns to tool-making or cave-painting or burial of the dead as clues to the presence of man, they are singling out some of the many ways in which the human ambition to understand the universe manifests itself. But the understanding of understanding is no simple matter."4
It is evident from the above quotations that any attempt to answer the question 'What is man?' in a narrow biological fashion is doomed to failure. As a biologist I will of course lay emphasis on the biological aspects of man's existence, but neat, rigidly-circumscribed biological answers cannot suffice. This is because, in dealing with man we are not dealing with some isolated entity far removed from our own experience. In looking at man, we are looking at ourselves. In asking questions about man we are asking questions about the one who asks the questions. It should not surprise us therefore, to learn that the dividing line between biological answers and philosophical or theological ones can become very ill-defined.
In spite of these provisos however, the question is a legitimate one for a biologist to tackle. Whatever else man is, he is a biological phenomenon. He is part and parcel of the biological world, he possesses all the attributes of a living species, and he is subject to many of the rules and regulations imposed upon living things by the environment. But of course he also appears to be more than this. He is not completely dominated by the environment; he has a control over it and himself that marks him off from the remainder of living beings. And this is where the limitations of a purely biological approach to man become evident. This is no man's land, and this is where biology takes on distinct philosophical overtones.
But to return to our question: 'What is man?' J. Z. Young5 has paraphrased this to read: 'What are good ways to study men?', and he begins his mammoth task, enshrined in his book An Introduction to the Study of Man, by asking: 'What are men made of?' This approach epitomizes that of the biologist with its reductionist overtones, although Young makes a valiant attempt to put the pieces together again and so emerge with a coherent picture of man. The biologist, however, is frequently accused of downgrading man in his attempt to reduce him to managable terms,6 and this is certainly a valid criticism on occasions. Man may be a 'naked ape',7 but is he nothing more than a naked ape? Man may be a tool-maker, but is this his only attribute? It may be useful to compare man to a machine, but is it valid to conclude that he is a machine and that this compels us to relinquish all claims to
It would he instructive to compare the relative frequency with which biologists ask the question 'what is man?', and the relative infrequency with which they attempt to answer it. Perhaps they are wise; perhaps the attempt alone is the height of folly; perhaps a simple answer must in the nature of things be a misleading one. In spite of such warnings I will attempt to give a biological answer to the question, even if it is far-from-simple and even if, by the end, it is a little way removed from biology.
Definitions of Man
The definitions of man put forward by human biologists fall into two main categories: a) those based on evolutionary data and emphasizing man's distinctiveness compared with other primates, and b) those illustrating the attributes of man's brain and hence his capacity for conceptual thought, the culture he has constructed as a consequence of this and his search for meaning and purpose. Both categories are essential for a holistic view of man, and I intend taking both into account.
However, before looking at these in detail it would be interesting to savour the range of definitions put forward by various authorities, in an effort to get a feel of the possibility open to us.
Modern man is one of the most successful mammals that ever lived, successful entirely because of the developmerit of cultural behaviour.9
Man is the sole product of evolution who has achieved the knowledge that he came into this universe out of animality by means of evolution.10
Man is a tool-making animal; or alternatively a cooking animal.11
Man is a technological animal, and technological change is the fundamental factor in human evolution.12
Man is nothing else than evolution becoming conscious of itself.13
Man is aware or conscious of his self; he has a mind, an ego and a superego; he is capable of insight, abstraction, symbol formation, symbolic thinking, and of using symbolic language.14
Man learns and teaches more than any other creature and therefore has the greatest possibility and opportunity to direct the course of events in the world. It is his nature and his biological function or duty to do so.15
Man is the animal who relinquishes nothing. He simply adds to what he already is and has.16
Man is a being who asks questions concerning himself. 17
Distinguishing Features of Man
Under this heading I want to discuss the features which characterize modern man in the eyes of the physical anthropologist. These features will of course be confined to osteological characteristics because it is these which constitute the basis of the fossil record.
Before discussing these features however, we need to define what we mean by the term 'man'. As I have already hinted I am principally thinking in terms of modern man, that is present-day man, or as the anthropoligists would call him Homo sapiens sapiens. The term Homo sapiens is generally used to refer to archaic man who was distributed throughout most of the Old World and consisted of a number of populations in different geographical locations. The best known example of archaic man is Neanderthal man who lived in Western Europe during the last ice age. Archaic man had appeared by 250,000 years ago, he had a large brain and differed from modem man mainly in the form of the skull which was long, low and broad with a big face surmounted by a massive brow ridge.18 Archaic man, while differing in a number of skeletal and cultural respects from modern man, is of course more closely related to modern man than to examples of early hominoids such as Homo erectus. For the purposes of the present discussion I will confine my attention to the species Homo sapiens, and in later sections will concentrate on the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. I will use the term man to refer to Homo sapiens in general.
The unique adaptive features of man detectable in the fossil record can be classified under three headings: the posteranial skeleton, the dental apparatus and the brain. For clarity I will subdivide the post-cranial skeleton discussion into three parts: the hands, toolmaking and toolusing, and upright posture.
The hand and forelimb in man have been relieved of their locomotor functions and have instead become specialized for the handling and manipulation of small objects. What this means in structural terms is that the fingers are relatively short while the thumb is relatively long and, of even greater importance, is capable of being rotated so that the tip of the thumb is brought into contact with the tips of the other fingers. This latter movement is known as opposition of the thumb, and whereas apes are capable of some opposition the precision of this action in man and the ability to oppose the thumb arid forefinger are unique human characteristics.
The human hand is superbly adapted for fine movements, as is clearly demonstrated by the opposability of the thumb, the presence of nails rather than claws, and the arrangement of the intrinsic muscles of the hand. These features enable man to use a precision grip as well as a power grip in manipulating small objects, which in evolutionary terms meant tools. Other structural features essential if man was to make full use of his hands was great mobility at the shoulder and elbow joints and adequate development of those parts of the brain (motor cortex and cerebellum) essential for the fine control of hand movements.
Tool-making and Tool-using
Possessing hands with this range of functional potential enabled archaic man to use and later make tools.
The significance of this step cannot be overemphasized as it was the first sign that man was breaking free of the bondage of his environment. Not only this, it also signalled the onset of the artificial in man's life. No longer would man have to rely on anatomical attributes alone, he could now devise substitutes for hands and brute force. Indeed it is not too much to argue that the era of inventiveness had arrived.
The very earliest tools date from 2.5 million years ago and probably were being manufactured even before this19. Clearly they belong to some of the earliest examples of hominid development, and while chimpanzees are capable of tool use, human tool use serves a variety of functions rather than a single function as in other primates. The very earliest tools appear to have consisted of very crude pebbles chipped along one edge. These chopper tools associated with Australopithecus were slowly improved by two-way chipping of the edges. Much later came the handaxe at the time of Homo erectus and this underwent continual improvement to produce the more sophisticated and more extensively chipped hand-axe in vogue with Neanderthal man, that is, early Homo sapiens. Tools underwent a major revolution with the appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens, perhaps some 35,000 years ago, with the development of very thin, sharp blades that could be used for a variety of purposes from cutting to chiselling.20 For here it is a relatively short step to the immense variety of instrument types with which we are familiar.
Important as are tools in the road to modern man it would be misleading to consider their development in isolation from other, closely-related events. The early stone tools implied hunting, which in turn implied cooperation between individuals and the emergence of a nascent form of social life. Integral to both these developments was the existence of a system of language, and hence a brain capable of nurturing speech. The inter-relationship of these traits appears essential, although the order of their appearance and the causal factors involved in their development are matters for speculation.
Tool-making assumes significance within the context of these interrelated events. Pilbeam expresses the point thus:
From this point on, hominids were cultural animal s, imposing arbitrariness on the environment, thereby making it more complex, increasing the richness of sensory input, and further selecting brains that were more effective processing organs".21
Man is characterized not simply by his upright posture, as other primates are capable of bipedalism under certain circumstances, but by his habitual upright bipedalism. It is selfevident that this is essential for full use of the hands, freeing them for manipulation and hence modification of the environment. The demands of habitual bipedalism on the muskulo-skeletal system are enormous and do not concern us here, while bipedal walking also requires complex control by the nervous system.
Suffice it to say that the lower limb has undergone rotation, fitting it for increased weight hearing and mobility. In addition the human vertebral column has developed a series of curves, and the position of the centre of gravity of the body is such as to ensure a minimum energy expenditure during standing.
While the amount of information available on brain structure from fossils and bones is limited, some important principles do emerge. The human brain is approximately three times as large as that of nonhuman primates, modern man having an average brain volume around 1400 cm3, and that of the gorilla 500 cm.2 More significant than actual volume increase is the fact that the cerebral hemispheres are considerably expanded in man, and are deeply included, with certain areas within the cerebral cortex being particularly well-developed. In addition to these features, the branching of the nerve cells within the brain and the
Man can be described fairly fully in purely biological terms, but he also insists on presenting himself to us as a being of value, as a person continually asking questions and continually searching for meaning in his life.
connections between nerve cells contribute to a level of internal organization
and interrelationship that result in uniquely human features .21
This idea that the organization of the human brain, rather than simple brain volume, constitutes characteristics that are essentially human is clearly demonstrated in human microcephalics. Although such people may have a brain volume within the range of apes and with possibly even fewer cells, they nevertheless demonstrate behaviour patterns that are human as opposed to pongid. Tredgold has described some of the behaviour patterns of microcephalics in this way:
The mental features common to most microcephalics are the absence of sensory defect, a general vivacity, restlessness and muscular activity, a considerable capacity for imitation and, usually, an inability for sustained effort. In their perceptive faculties these persons often compare favourably with aments of considerably higher intelligence , , , ,23
It is sobering to think that idiots, as micrncephalics are often considered, are far more human than the most advanced nonhuman primates and more human than we may sometimes wish to accept.
While one could analyze the characteristics of man's brain in immense detail, contrasting it at each point with non-human primates, a few areas will be sufficient for our purposes. Of the development of the cerebral hemispheres, an extremely important feature concerns the parietal region which is greatly expanded and which is vital for the development of language and conceptualization. The expansion of the frontal lobes in man is a contentious issue, although it is worth mentioning as it appears to he involved in behavioural characteristics such as motivation and social control. The region involved in sight is again well developed, although this by itself does not characterize man.
In general terms the brain of man in its total complexity and organization underlies all facets of man's uniqueness. J. Z. Young contends that: "what the neurobiologist finds out about the brain must surely be relevant to fundamental views of the nature of all this knowledge."24 From this it follows that "the whole structure of our language and thought is limited by a pre-programme in the organization of the brain."25
The Dental Apparatus
The most noticeable difference between man and nonhuman primates is the absence in man (especially males) of large, projecting canines.26 Furthermore, the canines which are present resemble incisors in shape and lack almost totally the sharp, conical aspect of the nonhuman primates. As a result incisors, canines and premolars form a continuous series in man.
Looking at the dental arcade, we see that it is rounded at the front, while the premolars and molars are parallel on the two sides or even divergent. Linked with these dental changes is the overall structure of the face in man which is short from front to back, and also light. These changes are associated with an improvement in the efficiency of mastication and an increase in the force of chewing in man.
Before we leave the overtly physical realm, a number of other human characteristics should be taken into account.
The first of these is the slow rate of human development, the goal of which is to delay the onset of sexual maturity. This slowing-down process is known as foetalizotion, because it prolongs into postnatal life the foetal characteristics of earlier ancestral forms.27 The extent of this process in man can be appreciated when we consider that the period from birth to the onset of sexual maturity occupies approximately 20-25% of his lifespan, compared with as little as 8-10% in some animals. Bronowski has termed this prolonged period of childhood " the postponement of decision"28 period, during which sufficient knowledge is being accumulated as a preparation for the future. Such a period increases the time span during which the maturing human can acquire knowledge by observing, listening, imitating and growing into an individual person.29
One possible by-product of foetalizatiou is man's nakedness. This suggestion is made because the distribution of hair on man is very similar to that on a late chimpanzee foetus.30 This is just one of a number of possible explanations for human nakedness, others being that it is related to hunting in a hot climate31 or to an aquatic stage in his evolutionary past.32 Whatever the merits of such suggestions, the fact is that nakedness, while not unique in the animal kingdom, is highly unusual amongst terrestrial animals. And we all know that it distinguishes the human 'apes' from all other apes, to borrow Desmond Morris' allusion!33
The sexual life of humans, although showing numerous similarities with the higher primates is notable on a number of grounds. These include the lack of a definite breeding season, and this carries with it the corollary that man is continuously sexed. Furthermore, man is unique in his reproductive variability, pointing to the importance in human communities of differential fertility. Allied to these characteristics is the length and relative importance of post maturity in humans, that is, the period of time after the cessation of active reproductive capacity.34
Characteristics of Man's Brain
I have already looked briefly at a few of the distinguishing features of the human brain. In this section I want to examine what may he called the products of such a brain, namely, language and thought.
Man can he described as having two language systems: a thinking language for manipulating concepts inside his head and a speaking language for communicating with others.3' Whether or not this implies that other primates have thinking languages I do not know. The important point it does bring out though, is that man is man because he can communicate with other men by means of speech. As we are all fully aware, numerous animals communicate with each other via olfactory, tactile, visual and auditory signals. Nevertheness such communication is far removed from the very fertile communication system in man, Even the range of calls made by chimpanzees and baboons is limited to a fixed system in which each sign has only one meaning.36
Human speech is a genuinely linguistic signalling system, and what is significant about this type of system is that it is an 'open' one. In other words, it provides a means whereby a very large number of signals can be combined to produce new words and combinations of words. Because it is not programmed in the brain, it is capable of infinite modification at will.37 All other signalling systems are 'closed' and hence lack the potential of a linguistic mode of communication.'38 It has also been suggested that the communication systems of nonhumans are concerned with the animal's motivational state, whereas humans with their linguistic system are liberated, as well we know, from such restrictions.39
Language is also of importance in that it enables an individual to learn from a variety of other individuals and not solely from his parents 40 This is one aspect of multi parental inheritance, in which a supra-heredity form of inheritance is introduced into human experience.
What makes language possible? As we should expect by this stage, the answer is a complex one, involving the brain, the larynx and the tongue among other things. In the majority of human beings (about 98% of the population) the areas of the brain concerned with speech arc localized in the left cerebral hemisphere, the so-called dominant hemisphere. What is illuminating about these speech centres is that, not only are they closely associated with each other, but they are also intimately linked to the motor areas concerned with movements of the lips and tongue, and to the areas involved with hearing and sight. Both developmentally and functionally therefore, speech forms part of a larger system incorporating the whole of the sensory input to the brain, and it plays an essential role in the way in which the brain responds to its environment. Without such a comprehensive response, man would not be recognizable as the man we know today, and he would certainly not have produced the culture we see around us.
Under this heading I want to concentrate on man's ability to form abstract concepts and to generalize.
One of the glories of the human intellect is that it allows man time to ponder and to meditate. Of course for such activities to be possible in the first place, a requisite level of intelligence is required. But given this, man is capable of indulging in activities-whether physical or mental, which have no immediate goal .41 If you like, man is capable of play long after his childhood has passed. What this means at the intellectual level is that man in his thinking can make and use abstract concepts.
Concept formation involves the isolation of certain features or attributes of an object from the object itself. Taken further, more elaborate concepts involve abstraction from the data provided by a number of the
Senses. 42 From here it is but a short step to the invention of new ideas and to the interplay of ideas. This latter attribute calls forth imagination, from which arise poetic language and scientific concepts.43
Before concept formation can be adequately utilized another trait is essential, and this is generalization, which lies at the basis of all human systems of explanation and forecasting.44 In McMullin's words: 'When man seeks to understand, he is capable of going far beyond the given or the experienced; he can bring the entire universe into the net he casts. "45 Not only this, be can integrate the present with the past and, to a limited extent, the future as well. Being capable of thinking in these abstract and general terms, man is in a position to attempt to understand himself and his world.
Having traced our way through man's physical characteristics we have now come to those attributes which man sees on looking at himself as a person and as an individual. However subjective some of these may be, we should not forget that they principally arise from the characteristics of man's own brain.
Man's Conceptual World
The topics covered in this and the next two sections cannot be readily isolated from each other. While I have separated them under different headings, there is considerable overlap and interplay between some of them.
I do not intend to enter the realm of philosophy at this juncture, but I would like to touch on areas such as self-knowledge, self-understanding, self-consciousness and self-awareness, Regardless of the precise connotations of each of these terms, they remind us of man's concern with his own being, a uniquely human concern, one imagines.
Man possesses a degree of self-knowledge, and he is continually confronted by a demand that he not only knows but understands himself as a human being.46 Involved in these pursuits is the awareness of other people and their projected images, and in the wake of this awareness is a comparison of how we match up to those alongside us. The result of these encounters with ourselves and other people is a growing awareness of who we are. This is our self-consciousness and it helps remind us of the limits of our persons. To identify ourselves with our bodies is indeed one of the supreme achievements of the human brain.
Self-consciousness carries with it therefore, the implication that creatures characterized by it know that they know.47 By contrast, even the most highly developed nonhuman primates are restricted to knowing; they are knowing creatures as opposed to self-knowing ones. Self-consciousness ensures that man is continually asking questions, about himself, his existence, his destiny and about any and every aspect of his world. He is a questioning and an answering being, because without answers self-consciousness is self-limiting.
As I have hinted already man's conceptual attributes have placed him in a position where he can create
The Christian view that man is rooted in nature and formed in the image of God is an elaboration and radical development of the biological position.
new ideas, imagine new solutions to problems and question his own existence. In
short, they have bestowed upon him creativity and inventiveness. Man therefore,
and man alone of course, is the creator of his own world and the roots of this
lie in his powers of conceptualization.
McMullin expands on this idea in these words:
Only man can fashion at will a symbolic system which be has the power to modify and improve in order to make it a more effective lens on she world. Man's creative understanding shows itself . . . in the constant restructuring of symbolic forms in a restless and neverceasing effort to understand.48
Other attributes essential to creativity are planning, forethought, memory49 and curiosity,50 while a sense of time51 and a perspective on the future are closely intertwined with it. These, acting together, make man a truly creative being, planning actions far in advance,52 devising new ways of doing things and living as much in a world of his own making as in the physical world around him.
The concept of culture is generally used to cover all those skills and ways of life that are transmitted nongenetically.53
The means of transmission of ideas is by interpersonal communication and tradition. In other words, no matter what particular culture we are concerned with, however 'primitive' or 'advanced', its basis lies in the ability of man to communicate linguistically and, in more advanced cultures, also by art, writing, the production of books, poetry, science, technology etc. Culture therefore, is nothing other than a world of man's own making. It is the extension of creativity into the world created by many brains in a particular geographical area at a particular stage in history. Today however, with the increasing prominence of a universal cultural system, it is the combined product of millions of brains spanning the globe. No matter how large or small a culture is, it remains the product of man himself and may be viewed as an extension of man's attributes beyond his own body and hence beyond his own physical boundaries.
Present concern over man's relationship to his environment is simply an extension of this principle. Man's ever-increasing technological prowess has brought the environment within the scope of man's cultural domain, and hence within the realm of man's creative talents. The environment in its relationships to modem, modern man (that is late twentieth century man), occupies a place in the world of man's own creation. Hence it is subject to man's manipulation and control.
Similarly man himself is subject to his own control, whether it be in the spheres of reproduction, genetics
Man is free to go his own way; he is free to construct his own frames of reference; but the only freedom that will enhance his human status is one grounded within and developed according to the precepts of his Creator and Redeemer.
or the brain. Man's own body is therefore, increasingly being
encompassed by the
constraints of human culture. Man is making himself increasingly unique, if we
can use such a term, because he is producing for himself an
world which is man-constructed and mancentered.
Similar ideas are often phrased rather differently, namely, that man can now control his own evolution. Huxley speaks of psychosocial evolution which is the cultural phase of evolution." From this he draws out the implication that man is now the only agent for realizing life's further progress, the future of life depending therefore on his ability to understand, control and utilize the forces of his own nature.55
Arts and Sciences
The foundations of advanced cultures are found in art, books, literary endeavour and science.
Artistic endeavour has a long history, and the earliest representations that have survived are in the form of carved figures, either on cave walls or as small statues.56 These, dating from about 25,000 years ago, depict either human or animal forms. They may, in part, have served as communication symbols conveying information about people who were not present. Cave paintings, the earliest surviving examples of which date from about 30,000 years ago, are often dominated by animals and animal heads. Their significance is a matter of debate, but it is reasonable to suggest that they may have served as pictorial adjuncts to verbal communication while they may also have had some form of ritual associations.57
The essence of writing is that it enables information to be stored outside the brain. It is, in other words, an extra-corporeal information store.58 The revolutionary impact of writing is that it has led to a previously unprecedented increase in human knowledge. As we all know, we ourselves are limited in the amount of information we can remember, but once we build up a library of books, we have at our disposal an information store far greater than we could ever retain in our brains. Books and libraries therefore, are simply extensions of our brains or more specifically of our cerebral hemispheres. To put it another way, they are man-made memory stores. Bronowski has used a rather different expression to describe books, and it is this: with hooks comes the democracy of the intellect.59 Man, particularly when in rebellion against those around him, is freer to express his views and his dissent on the printed page. He is thereby set free from constraints which would be inevitable in a non-literary culture.
The scientific enterprise can be understood in terms of man's biology if we synthesize a number of the attributes we have already considered. Man's ability to stand back from a problem and view it in dispassionate terms is indispensable. So too is his ability to view one problem in terms of principles derived from other areas of knowledge. So too is his capacity for generalization and abstraction. So too is his capacity for accepting a solution as temporary, knowing that it will be supplanted at some future date by an alter' alive solution.
Science therefore, embodies man's tentative excursions into his world, rendering them a part of his culture. It is organized experimental creativity.
The Human Person
Man is characterized by a desire to know and to be known. Each individual has a sense of his own personal uniqueness, he is aware of his transience and he knows that one day he will cease to exist. Alongside such thoughts go specific questions. What is my destiny? Where am I going? What is life all about? Questions such as these characterize human thought and introduce into his thinking an overtly religions dimension. Man's life is a search after meaning in a universe where otherwise there is no meaning. In Eccles' words:
Because of the mystery of our being as unique selfconscious existences, we can have hope as we set our own soft sensitive and fleeting personal experience against the terror and immensity of illimitable space and time.60
Malinnwski made the statement:
Religion . . can be shown to be intrinsically although indirectly connected with man's fundamental, that is, biological, needs. Like magic it comes from the curse of forethought and imagination, which fall on man once he rises above brute animal nature.61
Underlying these ideas is the fact of man's transience and the fact that he knows he is transient. Religion has therefore, been viewed by Feibleman as. "an effort to be included in some domain larger and more pertinent than mere existence.'62
The recognition of death is an ancient one, and is well known amongst nonhuman primates such as baboons .63 Burial of the dead however, signifies more than mere recognition of death. It involves some idea of an afterlife, and it is generally contended that Neanderthal man buried his dead with ceremony.64 The only other signs of religious activity before modem times were artificial hills which may have been religious in function. It is only from about 10,000 years ago however, that obviously recognizable shrines and temples become commonplace, signifying that the religious life of man had become well and truly established.
Starting from the acknowledgement that one of the most fundamental features of man is his selfawareness, Dobzhansky argues that this has brought in its train fear, anxiety and deathawareness. "Man is burdened," writes Dohzhansky, "with death-awareness. A being who knows that he will die arose from ancestors who did not know."65
Dobzhansky contends that, while death-awareness is not genetically controlled, it is a basic characteristic of man as a biological species.66 Death-awareness, in its turn, is a prelude to what Dobzhansky calls man's ultimate concern, 67 that is, his concern with things beyond himself and his present life; it is concern with the infinite. This brings us back to man's quest for meaning in life, a search which appears to be an integral part of man's make-up.
Man a Machine
In spite of the apparent freedom exercised by man in looking beyond himself, biological approaches to man inevitably raise the question whether man is simply a machine.
Some assert that this is indeed the case-man is a machine, and as such should be able to act in thoroughly objective ways.68 Others however, while conceding that it is useful to describe many of the actions of man in machinelike-terms, distinguish between this useful analogy and the direct statement that he actually is a machine. Man then, according to such people is like a machine.
If man is not a machine, why is this? A machine, after-all, is a human artefact, it is a product of man's brain. Because we speak so frequently in picture language, comparing that which is unknown with that which is known, it is profitable to use machine analogies. These however, give us no fundamental information about the nature of man, only about certain descriptions of him. A holistic view of man, including his experiences and emotions, belies the apparent simplicity of man-is-a-machine explanations. To suggest that we fully understand machines, tells us more about the simplicity of the particular machines than about our ability to understand them. To suggest that we can say with confidence that man is a machine tells us little about man, something about machines, and a great deal about our naivete.
We started off by asking the question: 'What is Man?' How far have we come? Are we any nearer an answer? Is the question correctly worded?
'What is Man?' implies that man is a thing, an object to be analyzed, weighed, measured and assessed. But is he this, and if so is he nothing more than this? You might expect me as a biologist to accept the question in this form without complaint. Our discussion though, has taken us beyond the narrowly experimental and has forced us to look at man in his own right, as a person and not merely as a primate different from other primates. Admittedly, the so-called personal side of man stems from biological characteristics, and in particular the organization of his brain. But man, the person, still confronts us.
Let us also ask the question then, 'Who is Man?' In this form the question brings to the surface the worth and the status of man. It prompts us to ask: What is meant by being human.69 Above all, we need to ask: Where are we going? Where am I going? Where is technological man going? Whatever our answers to these questions they assume that man, both individuals and the species, has worth. They are responses to the question 'Who is Man?'
As a biologist and a human being, because I cannot split myself into one or the other, I recognize a need for both questions. Man can be described fairly fully in purely biological terms, but he also insists on presenting himself to us as a being of value, as a person continually asking questions and continually searching for meaning in his life. These are not mutually contradictory sides to man; they are different levels, each essential for a unitary view of the whole man. Whatever else man is, he is a whole. When he loses his wholeness, he lapses into ill-health. Similarly, when we as observers of man ignore his wholeness, we see not man but something less than man.
A Christian Assessment of Man
All too frequently man is approached in a fragmentary way, the implication being that a unitary view of man is unattainable. And yet this survey of man based on the attributes and aspirations of human biologists has brought us surprisingly far. It would of course he misleading to suggest that there is a consensus of opinion among human biologists on all the issues I have raised. Clearly this is not so and the further we have moved from the narrowly biological the greater is the divergence of opinion. Nevertheless the very fact that man's culture and person can legitimately be discussed within the framework of human biology demonstrates the wide scope of this approach.
But in spite of this, is there not still an immense jump from the type of conclusions we have already reached to a Christian view of man? To answer this question we need to remind ourselves of some of the conclusions at which we have arrived. Man can be distinguished from other primates on the basis of his use of tools, his posture, many of the characteristics of his brain and his prolonged childhood. His language system and powers of abstract reasoning and generalization not only set him apart but also place him in a position to understand and mold his world, an ability immeasurably enhanced by his self-knowledge and creativity. Unfortunately or fortunately for man these characteristics leave him dissatisfied with what he sees and feels in his immediate world; he longs to know more, he longs to understand more because he knows he is finite. Hence the inevitable religious dimensions to his life with their emphasis on his ultimate concern. Man knows there is meaning for his life if only he can find it. And so man must attempt to know who he is and what place he occupies in a world of immense and exciting possibilities.
Man is an enquiring animal. He is unique in his search for truth, concern for moral values and acknowledgement of universal obligations.70 He is rooted not merely in his biological connections but also in his ethical aspirations. In many ways man is a moral being having a strong sense that some actions 'ought' to be done and others 'ought not' to be done.71 He is a creature of this world but is not limited to its immediate, material dimensions. He is explicable in biological terms only as long as the human and ethical side of his nature is not overlooked. And it is the human side of man which is the exciting and forbidding one.
How can we advance in our understanding of man in his totality? Is he more than an equiring animal? Can he be a fulfilled one? Are there answers beyond the reach of human biology and is this where Christianity comes in?
As we have already seen, man is rooted in nature, sharing the finitude, ereatureliness and death of all living things.72 "You are dust and to dust you shall return."73 And yet man is more than this. He has a special relationship to God and in some senses he is like God. "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .'. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him."74 From this we can conclude that, like God, man is personal, he can think and communicate, he is rational. Like God he has emotions and can feel, he can make certain free choices, he is responsible and accountable.75 Man then, and man alone is a responsible self who can be addressed by God and who can respond to the demands of righteousness and justice.76 Man cannot help seeing himself as over against a god, to whom or to which he recognizes he has obligations.77
This is the beginning of a Christian view of man. At no point does it depart from what we learn of man from the perspective of human biology. Rather, what it does is to usher in an additional perspective, one which revolutionizes the biological one because it places our view of man on a different footing, thereby providing a complete picture of him. In doing so it provides a means by which man's yearning for that which is beyond him can be met. And as we have already seen, this need is a biological one. The Christian view that man is rooted in nature and formed in the image of God is an elaboration and radical development of the biological position. It is broader than the biological one embracing the latter within its compass and setting it in a dynamic Godman, Creator-creature dialectic. For the Christian, man has a meaningful relationship to the Creator, and is capable of a level of experience and existence quite different from all other living things.78 Man is made with the intention of responding to God's gracious word in personal love and trust, and only in this response can he be what he truly is.79
This brings us to another important principle: man is a unity. He is not just body, neither is he just soul; he is not just material, neither is he just immaterial. In each instance he is both, Man is a totality; he is a unity. To suggest as did the Gnostics that matter is inherently evil is a sad denial of the Bible's affirmation of the natural order and hence of matter. At the same time however, the limitation of man's horizons to matter is a gross denial of his relationship to God and of his grounding in the purposes of God. Man is a unity transcending the vistas of the observable and yet thoroughly biological in all he is.
How does this help us? Is the idea of unity alone sufficient? Probably not, because man is a unity requiring description and explanation at a number of levels. To use Ian Barbour's phrase, he is a man
levelled unity" What this means is that, as Richard Bube puts it:
Man can be understood only when described as a machine and as a person created by God, created with real personality in the image of a personal God but functioning on the biological, biochemical, and binphysical levels according to the laws that govern the rest of nature as well.81
The image of man to emerge from human biology is a multi-levelled one, as human biology itself encompasses a range of related disciplines. This is useful and as we have seen it presents us with a surprisingly comprehensive picture of man. By itself however, it cannot be a complete picture because it omits-as indeed it
must-man's relationship to God. Only as this level of description is taken into account does man assume his true position in the world and his rightful status as a responsible personal being.
It is only in the context of a universe which has meaning that man can himself aspire to meaning. And a God-centered universe is indeed one which has meaning and in which life can be seen as having beauty and value. For the Christian, the universe and hence man has value because a personal God has created it and created man within a framework of personality. In a personal, caring universe man can find meaning and value, not only as a species but also as an individual. The enquiring animal can become the purposeful animal, but first he must recognize his need of God and the requirement that he enter into a true relationship with God and his fellowman.
What is man? Perhaps the Christian would prefer to ask what it means to be human, and whether man can be fully human outside a Christian frame of reference. For the Christian, man stems from the purposes of God and achieves both significance and freedom within the designs of God. Man is free to go his own way; he is free to construct his own frames of reference; but the only freedom that will enhance his human status is one grounded within and developed according to the precepts of his Creator and Redeemer.
From this it follows that man is a being of immense worth, and under no circumstances is he to be despised. The psalmist described man's stature in unforgettable terms. "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" he asked, only to reply: "Thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honour. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet."82 Man, of course, is far from perfect; all ton often he misuses his abilities and misdirects his energies. Nevertheless, even though he is a fallen being, he remains a being facing God. And this must be our point of departure as we seek to understand the depths and the heights, the potential and the limitations of man.
lBronowski, J., The Ascent of Man, British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1973, p. 437.
2Bronowski, J., The Identity of Man, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1965, p. 106.
3Beadle, G. W., quoted by Dobzhansky, T., Evolution: implications for religion. In Haselden, K. and Hefner, P. (eds.), Changing Man: The Threat and the Promise, Anchor Books, New York, p. 155.
4McMullin, E., Man's effort to understand the universe. In Roslonsky, J. D. led.), The Uniqueness of Man, NorthHolland, Amsterdam, pp. 3, 4.
5Yoong, J. Z., An Introduction to the Study of Man, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971 p.v.
6Angenstcin, L., Shall we play God? In Haselden and Hefner, op cit., p .97.
7Morris, D., The Naked Ape, Jonathan Cape, London, 1967.
8Wooldridge, D. E., Mechanical Man, McGraw Hill, New York, 1968, p. 203.
9Pilbeam, D., The Ascent of Man, MacMillan, New York, 1972, p. 1.
10Dobzhansky, T., Genetic control and the future of man. In Barbour, I. C. (ad.), Science and Religion, SCM Press, London, 1968, p. 315.
11Discussion by Simons, E. L., Primate Evolution, MacMillan, New York, 1972, p. 276.
12Ferkiss, V. C., Technological Man: The Myth and the Reality, Mentor Book, New York, 1969, p. 35.
l3Teilhard de Chardin, P., The Phenomenon of Man, Footana, London, 1965, p. 243. Compare Dobzhansky, T., The Biology of Ultimate Concern, Fontana, London, 1971,
l4Dohzhansky, ibid p. 64.
l5Young, 07) cit., p. 640. '
16Ferkiss, op cit., p. 33.
l7Heschel, A. J., Who is Man?, Stanford Stanford, 1965 p. 28.
18Pilbeam, op cit., pp. 4-6. 19
19IIbid, p. 80.
20Young, op cit., pp. 500.504.
2lPilbcam, op cit., pp. 12, 14.
22Ibid, p. 73.
23Tredguld, A. F., Mental Deficiency, Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore, 1947.
24Young, op cit., p. vii.
26Pilbeam, op cit., p. 49.
27Huxley, J., The Uniqueness of Man, Chatto and Windus London, 1941, p. 13.
28Bronoweki, The Ascent of Man, op cit., p. 424.
29Schweppe, J. S., Man: a Remarkable Animal, Research and Education Fund, Chicago, 1969, p. 24.
30Huxley, op cit., p. 13.
31Young, op cit., p. 478.
32Hardy, A. C., quoted by Young, idem
33Morris, op cit.
34lluxley, op cit., pp. 14.18.
35Bronowski, J., The Identity of Man, Penguin, Harmondsworth, pp. 48, 49.
36Young, op cit., p. 490.
37McMullin, op cit., p. 14.
39Pilbeam, op cit., p. 79.
40Young, op cit., p. 516.
4lBronowski, The Ascent of Man, op cit., p. 432.
42Young, op cit., p. 488.
43Bronowski, The Identity of Man, op cit., p. 48.
44Young, op cit., p. 623.
45McMullin, op cit., p. 11.
46Heschel, op cit., pp. 6, 11.
47Eccles, J. C., The Understanding of the Brain, McGraw-Hill, New York 1973, p. 220.
48McMullin, op cit., p. 37.
49Pilbeam, op cit., p. 154. p. 77.
50Clark, M. E., Contemporary Biology: Concepts and Implications, Saunders, Philadelphia. 1973, . 2.
51Schweppe, op cit., p. 74.
52Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, op cit., p. 423.
53Ynung, op cit., p. 499.
54Huxley, J., Essays of a Humanist, Penguin, Harmonrlsworth, 1966, p. 37. 55Husley, J., Religion without Revelation, Watts, London, 1967, p. 170.
56Young, op cit., p. 525.
57Ibid, pp. 529.537.
581bid, p. 516.
59Bronnwski, The Ascent of Man, op cit., p. 429.
60Eccles, op cit., p. 223.
61Quoted by Dobzhansky, T., The Biology of Ultimate Concern, op cit., 1971, pp. 77, 78.
62Quoted by Dobzhansky, ibid, p. 78.
63Young, op cit., p. 524.
64Pilbeam, op cit., p. 180; also Dobzbansky, The Biology of Ultimate Concern, op cit., p. 70.
65Dobzlsansky, ibid, pp. 68, 69.
66Ibid, p. 72.
67Ibid, p. 77.
68Wooldridge, op cit., pp. 201.204.
69Heschel, op cit., p. 29.
70Barbour, I. C., Issues in Science and Religion, S.C.M. Press, 1966, p. 364.
7lBarclay, 0. B., Reasons for Faith, I.V.P., 1974, p. 61.
721bid, p. 360.
73Cen. 3:19; cf. Is. 31:3, 40:6; Job. 14:1-17,
74Cen. 1:26, 27.
75Chapman, C., Christianity on Trial, Book 2, Lion Publishing, 1974, p. 53.
76Barbour, op cit., p. 361.
77Barclay, op cit., p. 61.
78Ibid, p. 55.
79Wallace, R. S., 'Man' in The New Bible Dictionary (ed. J. D. Douglas), I.V.P., 1962, p. 776.
80Barbour, op cit., p. 363.
81Bube, B. II., The Human Quest, Word Books, 1971, p. 35.